She’s highly qualified and she’s not a joke.

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Today was my first day of work without training wheels. It went well! I felt useful and yet so, so new at the same time, which is a complicated feeling but I liked it.

I also registered for my first half-marathon. Gulp.

No, I haven’t been writing about running lately, although I’ve still been doing it in a somewhat desultory fashion. The late sunrise and early sunset times in conjunction with my new job have made it more challenging than usual, but I feel great when I get home and go right back out again. My new and improved training schedule is a little intense because the race is … about nine weeks away. Gulp. And in another country. Gulp-gulp!

(I really am very excited about it. Today is just the initial jolt of “this is happening” nerves.)

So. Let’s rip the training wheels off these metaphorical bikes and rush straight and true into whatever comes next.

I will tell you one thing: I will not be running that half-marathon in a tutu, cowboy hat, fake moustache, and sheriff’s badge like I did for the MoRunning 5K last month. Running in fancy dress is way more difficult than it has any right to be. I will tell you another thing: walking down the Royal Mile, post-race, still in my running gear, tutu, cowboy hat, and fake moustache, and sheriff’s badge was one of the best times I’ve ever had. So many double-takes, so much shocked laughter. I mean, really, if you saw this walking toward you, what else could you do?

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Writing from: the propped-up iPad in bed, so this took ages. Listening to: “Damn Good Times” by They Might Be Giants.

Race Report: 2013 Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10K

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2013 EMF 10K Runmeter

(click the race map for my stats)

The 2013 Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10K last Saturday was not only my first 10K race but my first time racing with a friend. It turned out to be just as fun as I hoped it would be, and I am so grateful for the experience.

The day before, I rested, hydrated, and ate well. Gingiber (my race partner) and Seth came by for a cuppa and we chatted about the next day. Despite the time difference, I got to Skype for a few moments with FunkyPlaid before I went to sleep. Unfortunately, I did not sleep well. I woke up later than intended and had my usual banana and porridge later than intended, too. This would come back to bite me later.

Just before 08:00, I met Gingiber at her flat to hand off the cookies I made the night before so that Seth could bring them to us at the finish line. (If you like cookies like I like cookies, make a point to do this.) We walked down to Holyrood Park in an easy pace. The weather was gorgeous, warm and cloudless.

In the forty minutes that passed like a blink, Holyrood Park filled with runners and spectators. We had one last pit-stop and then I drank half a bottle of water, which was unwise. Gingiber found her friend Carmen, who was also running. There wasn’t any warmup, so once we found our pace group and did some stretching, there was nothing left to do but start the race.

Getting ready for the EMF 10K!

Look at how many of us there are!

Due to the sheer number of participants, the awkward jog/walk to the actual start line was a bit clogged. Carmen soon disappeared into a throng of faster runners. The clog of runners didn’t even out until we passed the first km marker, when the ascent up Arthur’s Seat went from “annoying” to “painful”.

Yet again, after those first 3 km, it was entirely worth it for the views.

emf 10k

Here we come around the corner (me in green/black behind the day-glo orange runner, Gingiber to the right in black with bright red hair).

Most of the race went by very quickly. My late breakfast and that half a bottle of water combined into a powerful side stitch, which wasn’t fun, but aside from that I felt great. I was shocked when we passed the halfway point, because up until recently that was the longest I had ever run in one go. The reality of running my first 10K race was finally sinking in, and I got very excited. Gingiber was consistently encouraging and positive throughout, which added to the enjoyment. The endorphins didn’t hurt, either.

The water station came up at the 6 km marker. Even though I was dealing with a side stitch, I was extremely thirsty, and so Gingiber and I split a small bottle, just a few sips each. I dumped the rest over my head and back so I could cool down a little. That’s something I didn’t expect: overheating in a race in Scotland.

Running into Duddingston was really fun. There were lots of spectators cheering us on. I loved how Gingiber thanked every single person who gave us a “good job” or “keep going” along the way. And there were many!

The Innocent Railway path was the hardest part of the course for me. My intrepid running partner did not walk once during the race, but I had to walk a few times, particularly during this section. We were already 8 km in, and I was feeling fatigued. The grade, albeit slight, was not helping.

But then there was the awful climb out of there and we were nearly done! Somewhere during that last km, a guy running near us was egging his friend on and thought it’d be similarly motivating to Gingiber and me if he tossed some cold water on us. So he did that. I didn’t like it at all, and muttered something about how if I could catch him, I’d kick his ass. But honestly, if you’re encouraging someone you know, and they don’t mind you throwing water on them, that’s fine and your business. But don’t throw water on me. I don’t know you, and it doesn’t make me want to run faster.

This simple moment made me ponder the nature of motivation and why I enjoy racing. I like it so much because I’m accomplishing a difficult goal alongside lots of other people doing the same thing, all for different reasons. All of those different reasons have different motivations. It is a lovely impulse to want to help motivate someone to do their best, but we should be mindful of how we do it.

But back to the race! Although my gear was dampened, my spirits were not. We were nearing the finish line … except we couldn’t see it. Obviously there was a spectating mass up ahead, but the actual line wasn’t in sight. Though at this point I was turning into my usual soppy self, so maybe I just had something in my eye. Then, suddenly, we turned a sharp left and the finish line was right there. Gingiber said something about running for it and we took off at a sprint. It was a glorious way to cross that sneaky line.

We collected our medals and goody-bags and went off to collapse on the sunny lawn by Our Dynamic Earth. Seth brought us cookies, Carmen found us, and I rode the endorphin high the rest of the day.

Photo on 26-05-2013 at 20.31

So what’s next? When I signed up for my first 5K, I decided that I wanted to run a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, and a marathon. I will be running another 10K in July, and on Monday I began training for a half-marathon that I hope to complete before the end of 2013. I just have to find the right race.

As always, I am deeply indebted to my friends and family for encouraging me to do whatever crazy thing makes me happy. This makes me happy. And knowing you believe in me makes me even happier.

I would like to give special thanks to the generous folks who helped me fundraise £160 for Macmillan Cancer Support.

On my way to 10K.

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Tonight’s slippery 6K run ended my third week of 10K training. It wasn’t a fast run, and it certainly wasn’t comfortable, with those giant, wet snowflakes sliding down my collar and up my sleeves, but it did the job.

So now I am one-quarter of the way to being ready for my first 10K race, which happens this May during the Edinburgh Marathon Festival weekend. I had wanted to run a 10K for my birthday, but the training timing didn’t quite work out, and I am okay with that. Better to run confidently and happily instead. I’ll also be running with friends, which will add to the fun!

To train, I am adhering strictly to a twelve-week regimen that starts out with three runs per week, bumping up gradually to five runs per week. Honestly, I cannot wait until that point. My running days are so much better than my non-running days that I hope soon I can regularly run at least five days out of every seven. 

Subjectively, it feels like I have become a stronger, faster runner. I wanted to see the numbers to back that feeling up. Advanced metrics are only available with “pro” subscriptions on the sites I use, so I just took my most basic stats and compared them against the last twelve months. I was pleased with the results: my average distance is the highest it has ever been, and my average pace is the fastest. When I started running, I could barely run half a minute, and now I feel good running 45 minutes straight.

Despite all of these positives, it hasn’t been easy. The negative self-talk is a constant running companion. Whenever a faster runner passes me, I feel a little self-conscious. I understand now why some trainers urge beginning runners to ignore pace, because it is such a bummer when I glimpse at my watch and judge my whole run based on how fast I’m running. The endorphins take longer to hit my system now, too, so I have to ignore the adolescent whining of my muscles for a mile or two before that all falls away. 

Around the start of mile three tonight, I experienced something weird and wonderful. The whole way I had been fretting over how slippery the pavement was, convinced I was going to end up completely wiping out, perhaps even hurting myself enough that I wouldn’t be able to run for a while. But my legs kept telling me, “Just go faster. We want to go faster!” My brain struggled with this for a few steps before I just said to myself, “Screw it, I’ll aim for the grass if I feel myself start to slide.” And I let my legs go faster. Suddenly I was surer on my feet than I’ve ever been, and the last portion of the run flew by in what felt like seconds.

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Okay, metaphor for my life. I got it.

For the 10K this May, I am fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Please consider donating to this worthy cause.

2013 Bupa Great Winter Run Race Report

Cygnoir after the 2013 Bupa Great Winter Run, with medal on!
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Today I ran my second 5K race! I didn’t think it was possible, but I am even more excited about running now than I was last time.

Garmin Report for 2013 Great Winter Run 5K

Last night, I wasn’t worried about the race because I knew mostly what to expect. I was a bit concerned about my health; my stomach and head have been a mess for the past week as the result of a post-commencement, post-vacation immune-system crash and reboot. So I took it easy all day, hydrated, and ate well. I prepared my race gear, then set out some freshly-washed clothes so I wouldn’t have to think about anything post-race but refuelling, showering, and resting. Then I went to bed on time.

I woke up around 07:00 — still quite dark in wintery Edinburgh — and my stomach was absolutely roiling. Race time wasn’t until 10:35, so I didn’t want to eat breakfast yet, but I wanted to test just how bad off I was. I had a banana and felt not-awful, then a cuppa, and tootled around online until breakfast-time, when I had oatmeal with a splash of maple syrup. I kept drinking water, too.

After waking FunkyPlaid up, I finished getting ready, and soon it was time for us to leave. It was wonderful walking down to Holyrood Park together. I wasn’t nervous at all, only excited, chattering away at FunkyPlaid about the upcoming race.

We got there on time, so I had to queue up for the toilets immediately. (This queue was quite organised, unlike the one at the last race!) Then we found the starting line, where I kissed FunkyPlaid goodbye and joined my starting group.

I was far enough back in the starting group that I couldn’t see any of the warm-up exercises, so I did my best to watch the others around me and fake it. I was so eager to just run already when my starting group lurched forward. FunkyPlaid got one last photo of me before we headed off.

2013 Bupa Great Winter Run

The elevation profile for the first half of the course had me a bit concerned. Again, I hadn’t really trained on hills, so I knew if I was going to make it to the 3K marker without significant pain I was going to have to take it really, really slow. The race announcer confirmed this as we approached the starting line, saying, “I’m not going to lie; the first half of this course is a killer.” Great.

Most everyone else around me took off as soon as we crossed the starting line. The very first portion before the incline was fairly flat, but I saved my energy. Boy howdy, was I glad I did that! As soon as the incline really kicked in, I was able to keep plodding along. Right before the first mile finished, still on that incline, I started to feel that weird, vertigo-like sensation, so I slowed to a walk for about 30 seconds until it passed.

At this point, it was tough not to notice what was going on around me. Some who were stepping off the road and into the wet, slippery grass on shaky legs in order to pass slower runners were also wiping out. No major spills occurred that I could see, but enough to knock people off their feet and scrape some knees. Also, a few people lost their breakfasts. Many people were walking up the incline, and a few were stopping. I felt less awful about having to walk.

Soon after starting, I realised that Runmeter, the iPhone app I use for training, had punked out. I was very glad to have the Garmin as backup, although when I glimpsed my pace I started obsessing about it … until I saw the view out over the city. If my iPhone hadn’t been so tough to get out of my running belt, I would have taken some photos.

I loved how many people were running with partners or in groups in this race. When two people run together, there is usually one person who is a little faster than the other. Time and time again, I observed the faster person turning around to smile or touch the other person’s shoulder to give them a boost. Just witnessing that boosted me a little too. I realised that as much as I love running alone, I would love to run a race with someone someday.

Once the endorphins kicked in, I didn’t feel so awful, but this race was much more of a slog than the last one. I was grateful for my hat. My hat is a souvenir from my favourite museum, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I’m not really a baseball-cap-wearing person, but I had been looking for a hat with a brim for rainy-day runs. After a great day at the museum with my friend Kate last December, I wanted a reminder of that visit and the spectacular vacation that surrounded it. Fond vacation memories played in my head as I ran today, thanks to my hat.

As soon as we started going downhill, I knew the race was over half-done and I was a bit sad. I started taking longer strides and it felt like I was flying! When I started the final km of the race, I was keenly aware that I was behind my first race time by less than a minute, but as soon as I started pushing myself to go faster, I felt nauseated. So I opted to forget the time and finish happily. And that I did.

2013 Bupa Great Winter Run

Success felt even sweeter with FunkyPlaid there to share it with me! He was energised by spectating at the finish line. There were so many people there today, at all levels of ability, united by intention and dedication. We both love that about races. Maybe we will run one together someday.

We stopped briefly on the way to lunch so I could put my medal on.

Cygnoir after the 2013 Bupa Great Winter Run, with medal on!

Then I ate so much food at Café Truva and had a boozy coffee too. On the way home, a passing stranger asked me how the run was. I was pretty exhausted at this point, but I think I mumbled something about it being great. She touched my arm and said, “Well done, you!” It made me smile a lot.

After showering and resting up, I made an indulgent post-race dinner of cinnamon-thyme chicken on a bed of sweet potato “linguine” with brown butter and sage.

Cinnamon-thyme chicken

Next up: beating my pace at the Meadows Marathon Fun Run (5.6K). I’m also training for the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10K, which Gingiber will be running with me, so I get my wish!